Film Review: 12 STRONG (USA 2018)

Submit your Screenplay to the Festival TODAY

12 Strong Poster

12 Strong tells the story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11; under the leadership of a new captain, the team must work with an Afghan warlord to take down the Taliban.


Nicolai Fuglsig


Ted TallyPeter Craig | 1 more credit »


There are two kinds of action hero movies – those based on comic book or fictional heroes and those based on real life ones.  Warner Brothers Studios have done well on both fronts, the latter with Clint Eastwood’s AMERICAN SNIPER standing as the best example. 12 STRONG tells the true story of 12 American heroes who took on major Taliban targets after 9/11 that possibly prevented other attacks on the United States.  (February also sees the upcoming WB real action Clint Eastwood movie The 15:17 TO PARIS.)

Based on the non-fiction book “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton and adapted for the screen by Ted Tally and Peter Craig, 12 STRONG the film tells the declassified true story of the Horse Soldiers made up of CIA paramilitary officers and U.S. Special Forces i.e. the US Army Green Berets Operational Detachment Alpha 595 (ODA 595) sent to Afghanistan on October 16, 2001.  The Americans, 12 in number join forces with General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance to help conduct unconventional warfare against Taliban forces.

The 12 are led by Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), a character inspired by Mark Nitsch.  Among the 12 that the script pays attention to are his Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer (Michael Shannon) and Sergeant Sam Diller (Michael Pena).  The others are given little to say or do but to show their faces in the action scenes.

The film does not contain much plot except to illustrate the difficulty and accomplishment of the mission.  The state of New Mexico stands in for the sandy and rocky landscape of Afghanistan.  The atmosphere looks convincing enough.  The battle segments with too much artillery and gunfire make the real enterprise a little too gung-ho.

Good intentions aside, the film contains some preposterous moments, the most obvious being the climatic scene with the American (Captain Nelson) on horseback leading the Afghan Alliance.  (Really?) “He is charging, follow him,” says an Afghan and then comes the glorification of America.

The best thing the film achieves is placing the audience in a totally foreign atmosphere and educating in what is involved in an almost impossible successful mission.  The audience sees the 12 all gung-ho, angry at 9/11 and wanting revenge to do their best for their country.  But when the film first shows them dumped into foreign territory in the dead of night, with practically no knowledge or bearings, one can tell that heroics is often just in the mind waiting for a reality wake-up call.

The film necessarily has to go through the cliched process of showing the soldiers with their loved ones before and after the mission.  Wife and kids are upset at them while the soldiers have made up their minds to put duty over family.  Of course, the promises that “I will come home!” are uttered and made, regardless of reason.

The film obviously displays the real 12 in a photograph at the closing credits.  The film also mentions the monument of the 12 in a statue that stands in NYC.  For a film based on true events with the fact that all 12 survived, it still looks too implausible.



Submit your Screenplay to the Festival TODAY


THE SHAPE OF WATER (USA 2017) ***** Top 10 of the Year

Submit your Screenplay to the Festival TODAY

The Shape of Water Poster

An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.


Guillermo del Toro (screenplay by), Vanessa Taylor (screenplay by) |1 more credit »

The film opens with voiceover by Giles (Richard Jenkins) who tells his story that turns into a beautiful poem at the end of the film.  It braces the audience for sappiness, but as the film unfolds, Del Toro shows how sappiness can be done in movies in a  good way – with the repeated use of the famous Alice Faye song, “You’ll Never Know”.

The film’s subject is Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mousy, curious woman rendered mute by an injury she sustained as an infant.  She works the night shift as a janitor at the Occam Aerospace Research Centre in early 1960s Baltimore.   One day, the facility receives a new “asset” discovered by the cruel and abusive Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) in the rivers of South America.   Elisa has a brief encounter with The Asset (Doug Jones), which she discovers is an amphibious humanoid.  She feels sorry for it and helps it escape by stealing it from the facility.  Helping her are her best friend Giles, one of the centre’s scientists, Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who is actually a Soviet spy named Dmitri and her co-worker (Octavia Spencer).

The film’s best and most amusing is the TV (one of many) clip of MR. ED (the talking horse) in which after a newspaper article seen in the background of a monkey sent to space.  Mr Ed Says, “I guess I have to enlist.”  It is a very funny and appropriate segment as the setting is of the time when Russia and the U.S. were engaged in the space race, just as it is mentioned that the U.S. wanted to send the water creature into space because of its breathing capabilities.

Any perfect story has to be brought to the screen by a perfect performance.  This performance belongs to Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins, who broke into the film scene with the remarkable portrayal of Mike Leigh’s heroine in HAPPY-GO-LUCKY.  She brings heart to the role as a deaf mute who finally finds not only love but a purpose for living.

A superb film with a message included –  THE SHAPE OF WATER shows a non-tolerance policy towards bullying, and discrimination towards coloured people, homosexuals and lower paid employees like the cleaners.  Most of this is realized in the diner that Elisa and Giles frequent, mainly because closeted Giles fancies the male server.  It is a marvel that a mute can communicate the film’s prime message: “If we do nothing, then we are nothing!”

There is a lot of good similarity between THE SHAPE OF WATER and Del Toro’s other best movie PAN’S LABYRINTH.   Del Toro’s dislike for anything military is shown in the unsavoury character of Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon).  He is given Del Toro’s punishment of bodily injury of his two fingers chopped off (as the colonel in PAN’S LABYRINTH had his face hacked.)

Del Toro is smart enough to prime the audience for what is to come, thus invoking what was Hitchcock’s best tool – audience anticipation.  The audience first sees blood on the sink after Elisa touches the creature.

The film contains lots of the back humour one expects of Del Toro.  The poster “Loose lips might sink ships” is shown on the wall of  Elisa’s (who is mute) locker.  “No negativity”  Strickland utters, just as he realizes he is about to lose everything he has worked for.

The musical fantasy sequence towards the end in back and white where the mute Elisa is then allowed to sing is nothing short of inspired filmmaking.

THE SHAPE OF WATER is filmmaking at its best with Del Toro still in top form, with top talent on display.  He does not compromise on the violence (a few torture scenes involve the metal prod) but amidst the violence and occasional foul language, his latest film is one of the most credible and beautiful romantic stories in cinemas this year.



Submit your Screenplay to the Festival TODAY

Film Review: NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal

nocturnal_animals_poster.jpgNOCTURNAL ANIMALS (USA/UK 2016) ***1/2
Director: Tom Ford

Writers: Tom Ford (screenplay), Austin Wright (based on the novel “Tony and Susan” by)

Stars: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon

Review by Gilbert Seah

Fashion designer Tom Ford’s second film after his successful acclaimed A SINGLE MAN is by no means a perfect film, but Ford is a director who can command an audience’s attention. Made up of a number of serious set-pieces, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is a handsome mounted production, sleek and chic like Tom Ford’s designs.

The protagonist of the piece is a successful Los Angeles arts gallery owner and designer by the name of Susan (Amy Adams). Susan often has sleepless nights and could thus be classified as a nocturnal animal. Her ex-husband Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal) has recently completed a book titled NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, about three redneck thugs who prey on a family after carjacking them. Tony sends Susan a copy of his manuscript to read as a privileged reader.

There are dual narratives in the film as there are dual universes – the real and the art worlds. The art world is the one Susan is successful in and the real is comprised of her failed marriages – the first to her ex-husband Tony who she never supported and the second being her present marriage. Susan is currently in a loveless relationship with a prick of a doctor husband (Armie Hammer) – as handsome as he is deceitful. As Susan reads Tony’s manuscript the film shifts to the terrorized family of a teacher (also portrayed by Gyllenhaal) whose wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter have been raped and murdered by three thugs. As the story reaches different shock pieces, Susan is jolted from reading of the book as the audience is shifted between Susan’s and the teacher’s world.
Ford’s film has the feel of a David Lynch film – like MULHOLLAND DRIVE and BLUE VELVET, though it never reaches those mesmerizing levels. As in Lynch’s two films, the protagonist is landed in a strange new world of darkness. The blackness of night and the grainy lights, as seen from the headlights of the vehicles in NOCTURNAL ANIMALS effectively create the atmosphere of unknown menace.

In NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, the topic of redemption takes centre stage. First is Susan’s redemption, as she tries her best to make her present marriage work despite her husband’s non-effort. Secondly, the teacher feels guilty when his wife and daughter are murdered and desires revenge. Ford shows the audience right away the man’s thought in a painting in Susan’s gallery with the word REVENGE painted boldly on canvas – a rare scene in which both worlds merge. The revenge is finally exacted when the teacher finally loses it, as demonstrated in the only scene with Gyllenhaal screaming his guts out. The best performance in the film belongs to Michael Shannon who plays the disgruntled police officer assigned to the case. Suffering from lung cancer, he has nothing to lose in wanting to bring the criminals to justice regardless the consequences. The film picks up whenever his character is on screen with him coughing up the scenery.

But the story in the manuscript turns out more exciting and absorbing than Susan’s story, thus eclipsing the more important narrative. But Ford’s film is not without his indulgent pleasures, like his stunning opening sequence in Susan’s art gallery where four older obese women dance in the nude with sparklers. The sequence emphasizes the irrelevance of the art world on the real world and vice versa.

The company formed for the film’s production is called “Fade to Black”, the camera technique that closes the film. Intriguing but not always as clever as it ought to be, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is still a pleasurable and absorbing watch, by any standard.



Voted #1 TV Contest in North America.
Get it showcased at the FEEDBACK Festival
Get full feedback! Winners get their novel made into a video!
FULL FEEDBACK on all entries. Get your script performed

Happy Birthday: Michael Shannon

michaelshannon.jpgMichael Shannon

Born: August 7, 1974 in Lexington, Kentucky, USA

(on his early acting days) I would work at Chicago store-front theaters that were little rooms with folding chairs. I did it for free and never really had the ambition to become a movie actor. I just loved acting and never had a desire to move to L.A. But, I was fortunate to tell some great stories and I wound up taking shows on the road to London and New York.

dir. Jeff Nichols
Michael Shannon
Jessica Chastain
dir. Jimmy Hayward
Josh Brolin
Megan Fox
dir. Werner Herzog
Michael Shannon
Willem Dafoe
The Runaways Movie PosterThe Runaways
dir. Floria Sigismondi
Kristen Stewart
Dakota Fanning
dir. Friedkin
Zach Braff
Michael Shannon
dir. Sam Mendes
Also Starring
Leonardo DiCaprio
BAD BOYS 2Bad Boys 2
dir. Bay
Will Smith
Martin Lawrence
Groundhog DayGroundhog Day
dir. Ramis
Andie McDowell
dir. Bay
Ben Affleck
Josh Hartnett
dir. David Koepp
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Michael Shannon
Best of the HBO series
Created by Terence Winter
dir. Zack Snyder
Henry Cavill
Russell Crowe
Best of the series
dir. Jeff Nichols
Matthew McConaughey
Tye Sheridan
Created by Terence Winter
Best of the series
dir. Bob Odenkirk
Dax Shepard
Will Arnett
dir. William Friedkin
Ashley Judd
Michael Shannon
Video reviews of the entire series.
dir. Oliver Stone
Nicolas Cage
Michael Pena


Midnight Special, Movie Review

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival:

midnightspecial.jpgMIDNIGHT SPECIAL (USA 2015) **
Directed by Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver

Review by Gilbert Seah

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL reunites director Jeff Nichols and actor Michael Shannon once again in a film dealing with an apocalyptic world. There is much to like and dislike about MIDNIGHT SPECIAL compared to TAKE SHELTER, but unfortunately, the former throws logic and reality to the wind. The plot and ending of MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is important to the enjoyment of the film and should not be revealed in my or any review, but it is sufficient to say that the ending should at least be a bit believable and not be totally absurd as in this case in terms of logic and possibility and also in terms of special effects. The ending is as if the special effects department was given an unlimited budge and the department spent the entire budget and more.

The film starts with a suspenseful abduction in which a man is wanted for the kidnapping of a child. It is all over the radio and the state in terms of an amber alert. Roy (Shannon) has fled a religious cult in rural Texas with his eight-year-old son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), who possesses otherworldly powers. Roy’s accomplice and childhood friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton sporting a very convincing Texan accent), a state trooper, helps to bring the boy to an undisclosed location on a specific date, during which a celestial and possibly world-changing event may occur.

There are a lot of points in the script (written by Nichols) that do not make sense. But of course, one can argue that a good thriller need not require good explanations as the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock has proven many times in his Masterpieces. For example Richard Thornhill (Cary Grant) was hunted down by the organization in NORTH BY NORTHWEST though no reason was ever given. But MIDNIGHT SPECIAL thunders towards a needed explanation that when revealed, makes no sense whatsoever. The supporting character of Lucas could also be done way with, though character development-wise, it does bring a good perspective to the character of the lead, Roy.

But for me whose first profession is engineering, I can really annoyed when a story leaves too many unexplained loose ends. Among these are: “Why does the kid and absolutely no one else land on this planet with the same situation? How does the kid comes to obtain all the information and for what purpose? Why the purpose of ‘the rapture’ at the film’s climax as it really serves no purpose? And why does the cult get so involved with the boy?

Shannon has always been an excellent brooding actor, accomplishing a range of widely ranging characters. Here Shannon is able to conniving the audience of a troubled yet caring father. He is willing to kill anyone to save his son.

The first half of the film works better than the second half. When more is left to the audience’s imagination, the more mysterious and suspenseful the film becomes.

The performances of the actors almost save the movie. Two of supporting cast deserve mention. One is Sam Shepard playing the cult leader, Calvin Meyer and the other Adam Driver as the FBI agent Paul Sevier who ends up helping Roy and Alton. One suspects that Nichols demanded solid no-nonsense performances from his actors.

But love it or hate MIDNIGHT SPECIAL will definitely affect audiences on way or other, in an extreme just as the film is (extreme).

Also, Free logline submissions. The Writing Festival network averages over 95,000 unique visitors a day.
Great way to get your story out:

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival:

Watch recent Writing Festival Videos. At least 15 winning videos a month: